It’s customary to make New Year’s resolutions that last a few days at the most. Lose weight, exercise more, be nice to rude people, park as far as possible and enjoy the walk to the store.
But the year that passed requires a more serious approach to our wishes for 2012.
The Iraq war is over after eight years and about $1 trillion in costs and a death toll of 4,484 American soldiers, about 50,000 wounded, and more than 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians. The country is deadlocked in political squabbling even though its dictator is gone.
Instead of taking stock of this war, an undertaking that will take decades, perhaps we can resolve not to start any new wars in 2012, and withdraw all our troops from Afghanistan. At $2 billion per week, this war is crippling our domestic economy and doing little to stabilize that region of the world.
As a first resolution for 2012, let’s all agree to stand strong without aggression, use diplomacy without wavering on defending ourselves, and maintain the smartest military force in the world without bankrupting ourselves: small, agile units with multiple skills and weapons that can respond quickly to whatever threat without mobilizing the entire military.
Foreign policy and military involvement remain at the federal-level, but with congressional input, we can all participate in encouraging a thoughtful political debate that makes sense. For example, decrying the reduction in military spending as a job reduction (increased unemployment) is similar to the guy who killed his parents and asks the court’s mercy because he’s an orphan.
The second resolution should be about public civility: you can criticize without insulting. British tradition has it that critical debate is constructive rather than destructive, that a better outcome is meant to result from the exchange. Why bother to criticize something utterly silly? It’s not worth the energy. By contrast, if you care about an issue — it can be what shoes to wear for a Christmas party when it snows — then pay attention and engage and provide a useful suggestion.
Public civility is not reserved for politicians in Washington or our own city council in its relations with the mayor. Neither is it limited to journalists or media commentators who are prone to ridicule people in positions of power. Speaking truth to power isn’t about mocking others: it’s meant to bring attention to significant issues overshadowed by political deal-making or back-scratching.
As custodians of public trust, politicians and journalists alike should be careful in what they say, make sure their sources are reliable, and whenever they criticize, they should propose alternative solutions. How would the public know what is really worth arguing about? It’s called responsible journalism or politics with integrity. Obviously all politicians have inflated egos — they voluntarily put themselves in front of voters and cameras, asking for the adulation of others (and their financial support).
As we think about foreign policy and political integrity, financial considerations remain paramount: how much does this idea cost? How much is this worth? Economists of all stripes agree that the best measure of our values or commitments are monetary. As President Obama prepares to spend $1 billion on his reelection effort in 2012, we should fear for the onslaught of wasted millions in the name of democratic elections.
Have we learned nothing from our democratic counterparts around the world? Is the UK any less democratic because it allows weeks of campaigning rather than months here? Is Germany undemocratic because of its election regulations? Excess spending on mud-slinging is absurd and counter-productive: only negative advertisements are remembered: “Where’s the beef?” (1984 Mondale referring to Hart) is a sad reminder that it’s at that level of discourse that political fortunes are made or lost.
So, the third and last resolution I propose for 2012 has to do with prudence. Let’s agree to be prudent with our money, not to waste it on silly ads or gadgets we’ll never use. It makes sense to recycle on economic grounds a much as on ecological ones. Why use plastic bags when canvas ones remain intact for years? Why replace our cars every two or three years when they function well for ten? Why buy a ten-pound bag of apples or potatoes when you need only one pound and the rest may rot before being used?
As we welcome another year, let’s promise ourselves and others to be kind and gentle, complimentary and generous, friendly and supportive without reservation or expectation of reciprocity. Next year will be better in every sense, as the worst of the Great Recession is over. Because it’s an election year, all the economic indicators will point upward: it’s an election-year dance. So, it’s a good time to invest in an improving economy.
Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Previous articles can be found at sassower.blogspot.com